It's back! The Discovery Space Shuttle landing went safely and smoothly today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was a bittersweet occasion -- this 13-day mission was the final tour for the Discovery, a space shuttle that took her first flight back in 1984.
After 39 missions, 365 days in space, 5,830 orbits of the Earth, 148,221,665 miles traveled, and 39 sets of landing-gear tires, Discovery will hang up her boosters for the last time and will enter retirement.
So who's her replacement?
Interestingly enough, we don't know. Discovery and the ill-fated members of her fleet, Challenger and Columbia, were cutting edge in the mid-1980s. Discovery served her country well -- she helped build the International Space Station and launched the Hubble Telescope and looked damn fine doing it, if I do say so myself.
Discovery isn't capable of going past low-Earth orbit, but that technology is in the works. But why haven't we gotten any confirmation? Astronaut Al Drew, who was on this last Discovery mission, told ABC:
We just don't know what is coming next. It would be nice if there is something, we don't know what is coming next with some definite program. It depends upon Congress.
Well that's ominous. The fact that our NASA astronauts don't even know where the program is headed makes me a little nervous. How am I ever going to pull a Lance Bass and try to get to outer space if there's no mode of transportation?
The funding for the shuttle program has been cancelled and re-allocated to a long-term goal of building a ship that will take us to an asteroid, and then to Mars. In the meantime, looks like I'll have to hitch a ride with the Russians if I want to get that picture of me in front of the space shuttle window, pretending to hold Earth in between my two fingers.
Are you sad to see the Discovery retire?
Photo via Nasa Goddard Photos and Video/Flickr